After spending the last 7 months detained in Tehran’s Evin prison, Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi has been released on bail. In his latest effort to fight his imprisonment, Panahi initiated a hunger strike earlier this week, refusing food, water, or medicine.
In a statement, attorney Saleh Nikbakht says, “Although I am happy about Mr. Panahi’s release, it must be said that his release should have taken place three months ago, following the acceptance of our objection to his previous court decision.”
Panahi was arrested on July 11 after he visited Evin to get more information on the whereabouts of fellow filmmakers Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Al-Ahmad. The court then ordered Panahi to serve a six-year sentence issued in 2010 for “propaganda against the system.” Per Deadline, Panahi was accused of making anti-government propaganda for his attempts to film the uprising following the country’s 2009 election, and his attendance of a funeral for a student who was killed during the Green Movement.
Over the last 12 years, Panahi has not left Iran, undergoing periods of house arrest. In addition to the prison sentence, the conviction also came with a 20-year filmmaking and travel ban.
In October, Nikbakht argued that the 10-year statute of limitations on the charge had expired and was not enforceable. The Iran Supreme Court agreed, yet Panahi was still held in prison. The charges will go through a retrial in the future, but the decision should have immediately released Panahi on bail.
Earlier this week, Panahi wrote a letter, stating, “Today, like many people trapped in Iran, I have no choice but to spend my dearest property… I will refrain from eating and drinking any kind of food or medicine. I will remain in this situation so long that my lifeless body may be released from prison. With love to Iran and the people of my land.”
With Panahi circumventing the filmmaking ban, his newest feature No Bears premiered at Venice Film Festival in September. The arrest of the high-profile director caused an outcry in the international film industry, with fellow filmmakers and award organizations calling for his release.
“It is extraordinary, a relief, a total joy. We express our gratitude to all those who mobilized yesterday,” Panahi’s distributor, Michèle Halberstadt says, per The Guardian. “His next fight is to have the cancellation of his sentence officially recognized. He’s outside, he’s free, and this is already great.”